Many don’t realize that feeding is an area that falls under the scope of practice for Speech Therapists or confuse the role of the Speech Therapist with that of the Occupational Therapist when it comes to feeding, since a child can be seen for feeding disorders by both types of specialists.
The role of the Speech-Language Pathologist when it comes to feeding is a simply stated, but complex endeavor: to help determine if patients are having problems eating once food enters the mouth, to help patients eat, and/or improve their oral experience of eating. Sounds simple enough right?
Most of us eat without conscious thought to the processes that are happening while we eat. But eating, like most other bodily processes, is actually a complex series of steps, broken into three phases that have to be perfectly coordinated in order for eating to happen incident-free.
Without going into the technical jargon that comprises the feeding world (your feeding therapist will be happy to delight you with the definitions of the oral phase, pharyngeal phase, esophageal phase, bolus, modified barium swallows, endoscopic evaluations, etc.), the job of the SLP is to ensure that patients are able to safely manage foods and liquids, transport them through their mouth and swallow safely without choking or aspirating (almost made it without the jargon, had to throw in one technical term, which means when food or liquids travel into the lungs as opposed to the stomach).
Determining the presence of a feeding disorder is usually a team effort, consisting of the SLP, pediatrician, gastroenterologist, dietitian, physical therapist, occupational therapist, etc. The process of determining the presence of a feeding disorder can be extensive and may consist of any or all of the following: collection of case history information; a functional assessment of the muscles and structures used in swallowing; a functional assessment of swallowing ability using modified barium swallows or endoscopic evaluation; an assessment of saliva management, and behavioral factors that may affect swallowing.
Some patients experience problems during one or more of the phases of swallowing due to issues of weakness, lack of coordination or range of motion, etc., often leading to the placement of a tube for partial or complete feeding. The SLP is responsible for helping to determine what phase of swallowing may be impaired and why, the potential for increased oral feeding and planning the course of treatment to improve swallowing function.
During feeding therapy, the SLP is responsible for ensuring the patient reaches the goals outlined during the evaluation utilizing the appropriate therapeutic techniques (i.e., oral motor exercises, sensory stimulation, etc.), educating caregivers on the patient’s feeding disorder and techniques to improve function because as with most therapeutic activities, patients gain more benefits by participating in oral exercises daily, and for changing the treatment plan as needed.
While feeding can seem like a daunting skill to work on, the key is consistency, a knowledgeable therapist and a supportive team. If you have any questions regarding feeding therapy, please contact us at 404-606-3755 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!